By Ernest Moss Last week we discussed some of the dangers of trying to evaluate music by the analysis of its relation to particular " cultures " or social conditions (including the social aspects of communal religion); or even of its relation to the individual human personality which produces it.
We saw that these dangers arise, first from the necessary inexactitude of such an approach, which can never get to grips with the subject-matter it has chosen, and second from the fact that any conclusions which the individual may come to when he considers music in this way are just as likely to spoil his enjoyment as to help it; as when, for example, one associates the music of Mozart with various distasteful phenomena of the eighteenth century.
The enjoyment of beautiful things is essentially without concept and image (except, as in poetry, those directly proposed for intuition) and, although these can prepare the way for an intuitive act, they can raise prohibentia as well as remove them.
A Barren Pursuit
Because of its inexactitude, also, the attempt to look at music from a so-called " functional" aspect is often a barren pursuit, except as a practical method for assisting composition.
To begin with, it is metaphysically certain that the entire universe, that is all created being, though not the most perfect possible, is perfect in relation to the ends which God intended.
God is the supreme " functionalist," and in the most fundamental sense nothing which is is unfunctionable, even chocolatebox art or the most " superfluous " decoration. But when we consider " functionalism" in particular aspects, it is easy to become lost. A " functional " staircase, for instance, would have to vary its dimensions according to the dimensions and physical aspirations of the individual who was to walk up it; and, indeed, so many other considerations enter into the matter, that in this case, as in all other particular cases, the truly " functional " thing is an undiscoverable.
Not Arguing a Case
When, therefore, Deryck Hanschell says that " there is no ground for the assumption that composers took to instrumental music as an escape from functional imprisonment ' or on the other hand from that necessary connection with actuality which all music must have," he is not really arguing a case at all, and for this reason: One of the functions of music is to give pleasure by being beautiful; and, even in the case of " cerebral" music, this is " actual" and necessarily connected with" life."
Two more points. Nobody who understood what he was saying would assert that " music consists of a purely mathematical relation between these parts " (harmony, rhythm and melody). The sound called " middle C " is not equivalent to " x vibrations per second." But a good deal of the beauty of music (nearly all in the best music) springs from real sounds really related, not from mystical " cultures " and " values they may be supposed to express.
Second, a few of the most elementary of these relations can be abstracted and formulated as principles, which afford a better hypothesis to explain the development of musical style than the much vaguer social theories.